Making SoTL Stick: Using a Community-Based Approach to Engage Faculty in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Making SoTL Stick: Using a Community-Based Approach to Engage Faculty in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Mandy Frake-Mistak (York University, Canada), Heidi L. Marsh (Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Canada), Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier (York University, Canada) and Siobhan Williams (Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2212-7.ch004

Abstract

In this chapter, the authors share their reflections on the practice of using a community-based approach to doing SoTL research. They examine two professional development programs at their respective institutions—York University and Humber College in Ontario, Canada—that support faculty members' engagement in SoTL research. EduCATE and the Teaching Innovation Fund are two variations of SoTL programs in which participants come together to engage in and support each other through the process of doing SoTL research and are organized around participants' individual goals rather than a predetermined set of outcomes. The authors provide a fulsome narrative and reflective account of the EduCATE and Teaching Innovation Fund programs with a particular focus on each program's development and relative success. Throughout, the impact of SoTL as a form of professional development is emphasized.
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Introduction

Now that educational development grounds itself in practice-based scholarship (Geertsema, 2016; Gibbs, 2013), much of this work is about generating knowledge that informs teaching and learning practices and about supporting faculty as they adopt more evidence-based, learning-centred approaches to their teaching. Because “academic teachers are better teachers if they pay close attention to their students’ learning and reflect about and design teaching with the students’ learning in focus” (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009, p. 547), the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) has gained momentum in higher education. SoTL works double duty: it is a systematic, iterative, and reflective approach to teaching that ultimately contributes to improving student learning and provides an exciting path to explore new scholarly horizons that can lead to external recognition and career advancement. Hence, meaningfully supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is both tremendously important and daunting.

In their practice, educational developers deploy a wide range of strategies to support SoTL, from one-off workshops to informal small-group discussions and peer-based learning. When immediately relevant and practical, these strategies yield positive outcomes in overall participant satisfaction and self-reported changes in understanding, and, to various degrees, in attitudes and future intentions (Steinert et al., 2006). The question often becomes one of balance: how can educational developers offer context-rich and ambitious programs (Bamber, 2008) without overextending themselves, or creating “unrealistic demands on faculty already immersed in their discipline, already short on time” (Geertsema, 2016, p. 127)? It is the authors’ belief that a sustainable way forward exists in adopting a peer-based approach to supporting and doing SoTL research.

In this chapter, reflections are offered of and on the practice of using a peer-based approach to doing SoTL research. In their respective institutions, the authors strive to engage faculty continuously with their own questions and interests (not predesigned workshops/events) and believe that using a peer-based approach can help them to achieve this. The authors examine two professional development programs that support faculty members’ engagement in SoTL research, which they spearheaded at their respective institutions, York University and Humber College, both located in South-Western Ontario, Canada. These initiatives include the Education, Curriculum And Teaching Excellence Course, heretofore referred to as EduCATE, a one-year program for faculty to explore any aspect of teaching and learning by engaging in action research at York University, and the Teaching Innovation Fund, a developmental support framework for faculty to develop, conduct, and disseminate SoTL research at Humber College. These two variations of “SoTL courses”, in which faculty, professional staff, and graduate students come together to engage in and support the process of SoTL research, are organized around participants’ individual goals rather than a predetermined set of outcomes. Provided is a fulsome narrative and reflective account of the EduCATE and Teaching Innovation Fund programs with a particular focus on each program’s development and relative success. Throughout, the impact of SoTL as a form of professional development is emphasized.

As in Hum, Amundsen, and Emmioglu (2015), each of these courses has been developed using an intentional, scholarly approach, with direct consideration to the goals of the programs as well as the populations that they serve. The authors aim herein to 1) describe the broader context within which the courses exist, and the processes that evolved in the program development stage, 2) detail the structure of each of the programs and their accompanying metrics of success, and 3) identify the challenges that remain with respect to maximizing the impact of these forms of SoTL support, in terms of longer-term, sustained opportunities for professional development.

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